Western USA 2023 – Day 7 – Atomic Museum

Today was our last day on the trip. We only had about half a day left before needing to drop off the SUV and head to the airport. We started the day off with breakfast at a restaurant called Blueberry Hill. Dad had some crepes, and I had an omelet.

After breakfast we drove a few minutes down the street to visit the National Atomic Testing Museum, which we visited way back in 2012! It’s changed a bit, with some new additions about nuclear site cleanup, and they added to some of the existing content. The museum opened in 2005 and is dedicated to history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in the Mojave Desert located only 65 miles (105 kilometres) Northwest of Las Vegas. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.

After visiting the museum we dropped of the SUV, got a ride back to the airport, went through security, and settled into PGA Tour Grill for some dinner. I had a hamburger, and my father had a sandwich. While we were eating dinner we were notified that the flight would be about two hours late, due to a late incoming flight. After dinner we spent some time relaxing by the gate until it was time to board the flight. That concludes this years trip with my Dad.

Western USA 2023 – Day 6 – Supercars & Neon Lights

Today was the last full day that Dad and I had on our trip. We started out by having breakfast at a nearby Panera. Dad had oatmeal, and I had a breakfast sandwich. Usually Panera is pretty good, however we were both disappointed by the lack of service, and by how dirty the place was.

After breakfast we drove to Exotics Racing on the south end of Las Vegas so that I could do some laps in a Lamborghini Gallardo. We arrived about 30 minutes early, but we passed the time with chatting, and a few phone calls. After check-in, I was required to take a classroom session on how the course was laid out, how to drive the car, and what the general instructions were. Following the classroom session we were split out into groups of 4 and taken out for two laps in a Porsche Cayenne SUV to become familiar with the course. The first lap was conducted at a fairly moderate pace, and the second lap was completed to the full potential of the vehicle. I had never experience g-forces like that before. After completing the two introductory laps I took my seven laps in a black Lamborghini Gallardo. It’s not the fastest car that they offer to drive, however the engine note is my favourite of all the vehicles they offer, because it’s a V10, as opposed to a V8 or V12. V10’s offer very distinct engine notes. The car can accelerate from 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds with its 550hp 5.2l V10! I had such a blast and would do it again in a heartbeat!

It was time to grab some lunch, so we drove to a nearby Albertson’s grocery store to pickup some food, and then drove out to Red Rock Canyon, about 30 minutes west of Las Vegas. Unfortunately the park is so busy now that you have to book a time slot, so we didn’t have a chance to go in. When Dad and I were there a few years ago we could just drive in, and there was few people there. We found an overlook nearby and had our lunch, before driving back to our hotel.

After arriving back at the hotel I opted to go out and explore the city, while Dad had a nap. After he woke up he explored around with me for a bit. We walked our way through Bellagio, ARIA, Park MGM, New York-New York, Excalibur, and Tropicana. When we arrived at the Tropicana my dad put $5 into a slot machine and increased it to $9.10 before cashing out.

It was time to get some dinner. We originally tried to eat at “America”, an americana restaurant, however the service was so poor that we left. We walked across the street to Olive Garden, where the service was much better. After dinner we walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit before it was time to drive to the Neon Museum, where we had a 9:30pm tour.

The Neon Museum has certainly changed a lot since I visited it back in September 2017. The Neon Museum, opened on October 27th 2012, features signs from old casinos and other businesses from the Las Vegas area. The main feature is the fully restored lobby shell from the defunct La Concha Motel as it’s main visitor center, as well as the newly restored Hard Rock Guitar that was restored and unveiled in August 2021.

Western USA 2023 – Day 5 – Area 15

Today we woke up around 7:30am and had breakfast downstairs before making our way back to Las Vegas, where we will be spending the next two days. The drive back to Las Vegas took about 3.25 hours.

Our first stop once we arrived in Las Vegas was the Baby Birds Cafe, where we both had smoked salmon toast, and I had a Masala Chai, and my dad has a banana smoothie.

After lunch we drove to Area 15, a unique entertainment complex featuring sculptures, displays, bars, etc. Inside Area 15 was two areas that we visited; Meow Wolf Omega Mart and Wink World.

Meow Wolf has an interactive art installation in Las Vegas called Omega Mart, which is located in Area15, a new art and entertainment complex that was opened in September 2020. Omega Mart is a 52000 square foot (4800 square metre) grocery store that allows guests to explore American consumerism and corporate responsibility through an interactive environment. The exhibit features over 325 writers, painters, sculptors, actors, lighting designs, musicians, and support staff.

Wink World is a visual / audio exhibit created by Chris Wink, who is well known as one of the three co-founders of Blue Man Group. It was okay, but nothing to cry home about. I don’t have any photos of it, but I have some video of it, which I’ll post to my YouTube channel later.

Western USA 2023 – Day 2 – Ghost Towns

Today we explored the three ghost towns of Old Irontown, Silver Reef, and Grafton. We woke up around 7:00am and had a complimentary breakfast at our hotel. I had some fruit, bacon, and an omelette. After breakfast we drove about 75 minutes to Old Irontown.

Old Irontown, originally known as Iron City, was originally founded in 1868 when there was a second attempt at mining iron from the nearby Iron Mountain. The first attempt from Cedar City was not successful. The city didn’t last long, only until 1876, when the Edmunds-Tucker Act (religious crisis) and the Panic of 1873 (economic crisis) led to the closure of the mine, which eventually led to the demise of the city. At its peak, the settlement included a school, blacksmith, charcoal furnaces, and a foundry. The ghost town is now a protected historic site since 1971. 

After visiting Old Irontown we tried to visit a nearby historic aviation arrow, however the road was impassable, so we continued onto the second ghost town of Silver Reef, which was about 40 minutes away.

Silver Reef is a ghost town Northeast of St. George, Utah. It was established in 1875 when a silver vein was discovered in a sandstone formation by a prospector named John Kemple. Geologists were baffled by this, as silver is not usually found in sandstone. Originally established as the settlement called Rockpile, the town was eventually renamed Silver Reef. By 1879 over 2000 people were living in Silver Reef. Mines were starting to closed by 1884 as the worldwide price of silver dropped, and by 1901 most of the buildings had either been demolished or moved to Leeds.

In 1916, mining operations in Silver Reef resumed under the direction of a man named Alex Colbath, who started the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company to exploit the remaining mines in the area. These mines were eventually purchased by American Smelting and Refining Company in 1928, however due to the Great Depression, not much work was completed. In 1948 the mines were purchased by The Western Gold & Uranium Corporation, and in 1951 began mining uranium in the area. The mines were eventually sold again, in 1979 to the 5M Corporation. Today, the Wells Fargo office, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, and the Rice Building are the prominent remaining structures of the ghost town.

It was time to get some lunch so we drove about 20 minutes to Hurricane and ate at Main Street Cafe. We both had a cranberry turkey sandwich, which was delicious. I chose a side of salad with blue cheese dressing.

After lunch we drove towards Silver Reef; the last ghost town of the day. Along the way we stopped at Matt’s Offroad Recovery, which is an off-road recovery operation outisde of hurricane. Matt has a YouTube channel which I have been watching on a regular basis for the last 2.5 years, so it was neat to see his crew and the Morrvair in person. They were fairly busy, so were not actively taking tours of the site. I did see Lizzy and Matt’s wife Jamie though. After a brief stop we continued towards Grafton.

Grafton is a ghost town just south of Zion National Park in Utah. It is likely the most photographed ghost town in the Western states, and has been used as a filming location for several movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The town was settled in 1859 as a cotton-growing project ordered by Brigham Young, an American leader and politician at the time. The town grew quickly in the first couple of years, featuring 28 families by 1864. Each family farmed an acre of land. Continuous flooding and large amounts of silt in the land quickly lead to the abandonment of the town, and only four families remained by 1890. The last residents left Grafton in 1944. In June 1997 the Grafton Heritage Partnership was organized to protect, preserve, and restore the remaining townsite.

It was around 4:00pm at this time, and we had accomplished everything that we wanted to see today so we drove back towards St. George. My dad had found another aviation navigation arrow that we could stop at, which was right in St. George. These large 50 foot “Chrome Yellow” concrete arrows were built between 1926 and 1932 to help to guide pilots of early airmail flights across the United States. All arrows pointed East on West-East airways, and North on South-North airways. In the middle of the arrow was a 50 foot tall steel tower that had a rotating beacon to help aid in navigation, especially at night. During World War 2 the steel towers were dismantled to supply metal for the way effort. Towards the end of the war aircraft navigation systems were starting to be utilized, so the arrows became bleached and started to crumble. The arrow that we visited today is painted pink, but its originally colour would have been that vibrant yellow.

After that we drove back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going out for dinner. We decided to go back to the same place as last night. This time I had a lamb burger and a salad, and Dad had a pulled pork sandwich. After dinner we went back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going to bed, as we have a fairly early day tomorrow because we need to go for our hiking orientation in Kanab for our hike on Thursday.

Western USA 2023 – Day 1 – St. George

Today my father and I embarked on one of our near-annual adventures together. This time we will be visiting some of our favourite states of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. The day started off with a mid-afternoon flight from Calgary to Las Vegas on a WestJet Boeing 737-700. Dad upgraded us to business class, which was nice. The flight was an hour delayed, but it didn’t affect anything that we had planned. On the flight I had the chicken dish, since my Dad had the last ravioli dish. It was pretty good, however I thought the cold asparagus and feta cheese that was served with it was rather weird.

After arriving in Las Vegas we took an Uber in a Tesla 3 to Dollar Car Rental to pickup our car. The Uber ride was about $15 USD, which seemed fair. After signing the paperwork we hopped into the Ford Edge that we were given and drove two hours towards St. George, Utah, where we would be staying for the night.

When we were close to St. George we both noticed the beautiful snow covered mountains overlooking St. George below so we turned off the highway to take a picture. This is where we accidentally stumbled upon a trail called Aspiration Trail with beautiful painted rocks along the entire length of it. The painted rocks are a range of inspirational quotes, funny quotes, and beautiful artwork, however there were some advertisements strewn about it. The trail was a project that was created by Kevin and Anne Hanson. Their inspiration came from their desire to help parents find activities to do with their children and bring families closer together. At the summit of the hike is a wooden sign surrounded by hundreds of painted rocks that reads “”Congratulations! You have reached the summit. Please leave a rock on our monument signifying your achievement”. The project was started on March 20th 2021.

After exploring the beautifully painted rocks we drove the remaining ten minutes towards our hotel; The Hamptons Inn in St. George. After checking into our hotel and getting settled in we drove to Georges Corner Restaurant to have dinner. I had a Reuben, and my father had a grilled cheese sandwich. After dinner we ended up hanging out at the hotel for the remainder of the evening.

Yerevan, Armenia – Day 3 of 3

Today was my last day in Armenia, and my last day of my trip. I woke up early at 7:30am, because I had to pickup my rental car at 8:00am. I walked 5 minutes away to ibis Yerevan Center, where the rental car location was for Alamo. When I arrived there wasn’t anyone there, so I went into the hotel and inquired. The picked up the phone to make a call… I noticed a guy at the other end of the desk answered it, said something in Russian, grabbed a uniform, and left. The lady said “the guy will see you next door now”. It made me chuckle.

My rental car was a newer automatic Nissan Sentra. After doing the walkthrough I drove about one hour towards my first stop; Sevanavank. Sevanavank is a 9th Century Armenian Apostolic Church located on a peninsula at the Northwestern shore of Lake Sevan, about an hour Northeast of Yerevan. Initially the monastery was located on the southern shore of a small island, however after Lake Sevan was drained about 20 metres during the era of Joseph Stalin, the island was transformed into a peninsula. On the Southern shore of the peninsula a guesthouse was built for the Armenian Writers Union, and on the Eastern shore a summer residence was built for the Armenian President. Unfortunately the entire entrance was gated off, and since I was already feeling uncomfortable being in the country I chose not to try to see it up close. I used my Sony RX100v6 to zoom in on it.

Next stop was Goshavank Monastery, about a 40 minute drive away. What an incredible drive! Windy road after windy road, with frost on all the trees! Unfortunately I also went through a few check stops on the drive, and they seemed pretty upset with me visiting Azerbaijan. I really should have entered into the country on my UK Passport…

Goshavank Monastery is a 12th Century Armenian Apostolic monastery located in the village of Gosh. The monastery is in mostly original state, and remains in good condition. Goshavank was built in the place of an older monastery called Nor Getik, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1188. Mkhitar Gosh, a statesman, scientist, and author played a major role in the rebuilding of the monastery. The site consists of St. Astvatsatin Church, St. Gregory Church, St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, Double Chapel, Single Chapel, Gavit of St. Astvatsatsin Church, a Bell Tower and Book Despository, School Building, and a Gallery. The site is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. While I was here there was a beautiful husky named Hank that wouldn’t leave me alone. He wanted a ton of attention; it was really cute and made me miss Ru.

After visiting Goshavank Monastery I drove to Haghartsin Monastery Complex, a 13th Century monastery located near the town of Dilijan in the Dilijan National Park, a World Heritage Site. Construction of the monastery began in the 10th Century with St. Gregory Church being the first building to be built. The monastery contains St. Astvatsatin Church, St. Astvatsatin Church Gavit ruins, St. Gregory Church, St. Gregory Gavit, St. Sepanos Church, and the Bagratuni Sepulchre. While I was here there were also a few friendly dogs that kept me company.

It was time to grab some lunch so I stopped at Cafe Number 2, located in Dilijan to have some delicious pizza, and a few coffees. Cafe Number 2 is staffed by 14-18 year olds looking to make their way in the hospitality industry. I found them to be exceptionally polite, and the food and coffee were fantastic!

I then tried to visit a few other monasteries, but wasn’t successful due to the weather, and two aggressive dogs. I gave up and ended up driving over 1.5 hours to my next location; Saint Hovhannes Church. Saint Hovhannes Church is a 10th century basilica located in the village of Byurakan, Northeast of the city of Yerevan. The basilica is different than many others in the country because it doesn’t have a dome. I wanted to take some photos of the inside, however there was currently an active service, and when I entered everyone was staring at me so I left quickly.

30 minutes away was Charent’s Arch, which was an unplanned visit. Charents’s Arch is an monument dedicated to the famous Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents, who loved and admired the beauty of Mount Ararat. Unfortunately today was very foggy so I couldn’t see much of a view.

Along the same road is the Pagan Temple of Garni and Geghard Monastery, my two last stops of the day.

The Pagan Temple of Garniis the only standing Grego-Roman colonnaded (columned) building in Armenia, and in the entirety of the former Soviet Union. It’s a bit foggy as to when the structure was originally built, but it’s believed to have been built by king Tiridates I in the 1st Century AD as a temple to the sun god Mihr. After Armenia was converted to Christianity in the early 4th Century, it was then converted into a royal summer house for Khosrovidukht, the sister of Tiridates III. It collapsed in an earthquake in 1679, and lay in ruins until it was reconstructed between 1969 and 1975 by a team lead by architect Alexander Sahinian.

Geghard Monastery is a 4th Century medieval monastery located in a partially carved out mountain in the Kotayk region of Armenia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was founded in the 4th Century by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave. The monastery was originally named Ayrivank, which means “The Monastery of the Cave”. Today the monastery is known by its current name of Gegardavank, which means “The Monastery of the Spear”. There’s a legend suggesting that Apostle Judy (Thaddeus) brought the spear that injured Jesus during the crucifixion to Geghard. The first monastery was destroyed by the Arabs in the 9th century. The current iteration of the monastery was started in 1215. Some of the churches within the monastery are entirely dug out of the cliff rocks, some are little more than caves, and others are elaborate structures.

Afterwards I drove an hour back to Yerevan, parked my car at Freedom Square, and walked back to my hotel. After resting for a while I walked next door to the grocery store and purchased some fruit and vegetables for dinner. I had to call it an early night since I needed to wake up at 3:00am to drive to the airport. Unfortunately some very loud ladies woke me up at 12:55am when they came back to the hotel and had a conversation in the hallway. I only ended up getting 2 hours of sleep.

I drove back to the airport and dropped off my car. Upon check-in I was presented with an upgrade to business class for my first of three flights. At this point I already knew that my third flight was also upgrade, but wasn’t sure about my second flight yet. I settled into the lounge to do some photo editing and some work. There was this obnoxiously loud individual talking on speakerphone in the lounge, however at this point in time I chose to ignore him.

My first flight was on an Austrian Airlines A320 from Yerevan, Armenia to Vienna, Austria. In Vienna I had a 4 hour layover so I checked into the lounge to do some more photo editing and work. Guess what… obnoxious guy also came into this lounge, and chose to sit right next to me. Within 10 minutes he started up a facetime conversation with someone, and this was an open invitation for me to comment. I turned to him and said “I chose to ignore you at the last airport, however nobody wants to hear your conversations. People come to a lounge and relax. He made the unfortunate decision to sit next to me despite the rest of the lounge being completely empty. What you’re doing is obnoxious, and you should be more mindful”. He ended up putting his headphones in, but was still rather loud, so I chose to move. Gotta love those kinds of people… Towards hour three I was notified that I was upgraded to business class, which was great because I was functioning on very little sleep.

My next flight was on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to Toronto. The flight was a bit turbulent, but other than that went smoothly. I ended up getting about 3 hours of shut eye on the flight, which helped. After arriving in Toronto I caught the Hilton hotel shuttle bus to my hotel. By the time I arrived it was 4:00pm. I worked on my blog for an hour, and then went to bed, sleeping all the way until 3:00am. After waking up I took the shuttle back to the airport to catch my final flight back to Calgary on an Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX-8. Prior to boarding I spent some time in the Air Canada lounge and had some breakfast.

This concludes my Further East Europe trip. Upcoming trips include The Wave, Arizona in March, and Eastern USA in April. Stay tuned!

Yerevan, Armenia – Day 2 of 3

Today I woke up at 7:30am naturally. After getting dressed I walked over to the sister hotel where a delicious complimentary breakfast buffet was being served. After breakfast I hailed a taxi on the GG app to the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex. The Armenian Genocide Memorial is dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide, and is located on Tsitsernakaberd hill that overlooks Yerevan. It was built in 1967 on the same site that was once an Iron Age fortress. Every year on April 24th the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is recognized, and thousands of people lay flowers around the memorial out of respect of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who died during the atrocities committed by the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) between 1915 and 1922. The concrete monument was designed by architects Arthur Tarkhanyan, Sashur Kalashyan and artist Hovhannes Khachatryanar. The monument features a 44 metre tall “stele” which symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Next to the stele is a circle with a depth of 1.5 metres featuring an eternal flame, which is surrounded by 12 concrete slabs, which represents the twelve lost provinces in the present-day Turkey. Along the edge of the park there is a 100 metre long wall with the names of towns and villages where massacres and deportations were known to have taken place. At the same site the is The Armenian Genocide Museum, which was very sobering to visit. I spent about an hour hear reading about what happened.

After visiting the memorial it was time to do something lighter. Located on the same hill is the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex. The sports complex is a futuristic looking sporting complex that was opened in 1983. It was designed by A. Tarkhanian, S. Khachikian, G. Poghosian, G. Musheghian. The sports complex has capacity for 8000 people and was only open for two years before a large fire broke out. After the fire it sat empty for two years until it was repaired by the end of 1987. In 1999 the complex received its current name after the assignation of Armenian parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan. In October 2005 the complex was sold by the Armenian government to Russian BAMO Holding Company for $5.7 million with the agreement that the name of the complex couldn’t be changed, and the functionality of the complex couldn’t be changed. Shortly after nearly $42 million was spent renovating the complex over a three year period into a modern sports / concert arena. In August 2014, BAMO Holding Company had accumulated a large amount of debt, and the Government of Armenia transferred the ownership of the complex to the Ministry of Defense. In August 2015 the government decided to sell the complex to NTAA Investment Group, who eventually has a plan to turn the complex into a family-oriented center that will include hotels, an indoor waterpark, concert halls, meeting rooms, restaurants, shops, and a casino.

From here I took a quick 8 minute taxi ride to Yerevan Cadastre Local, which is located at 35/2 Komitas Avenue. It is a neat looking soviet era building, however I couldn’t find any information on it.

It was already approaching lunch at this point in time, so I decided to walk to Cafe Aznavour, about 20 minutes away, to get some lunch. The Russian couple that I met yesterday had recommended this place to me, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I had some coffee and Borscht.

Across the street from where I had lunch was a very strange building that houses the Development and Investments Corporation of Armenia. The building is a neobrutalist apartment block located at 74 Nairi Zaryan Street. Despite the building looking fairly old, it was recently completed in 2013, and reminds me a lot of the “city gates” that were built in Belgrade, Serbia. You can read about that in my blog post here.

A 20 minute walk away was Haghtanak Amusement Park and the Mother Armenia Statue. The amusement park is located in… you guessed it… Haghtanak Park. Despite it looking fairly dated, it is a fairly new amusement park that was started in 2017. It features 24 rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, a ferris wheel, gondolas, etc. This reminds me a bit of the amusement park that I visited in Tbilisi.

The Mother Armenia Statue features a female monumental statue in Victory Park that overlooks Yerevan. It replaces a monumental statue of General Secretary Joseph Stalin, which was original erected in 1950. The original monument was designed by sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and architect Rafayel Israyelian. They designed the pedestal to allow statues to be easily replaced, because they “knew that the glory of dictators is temporary”. In 1962 the statue of Stalin was removed, with one soldier being killed and many others injured during the process. In 1967 the current statue of Mother Armenia, designed by Ara Harutyunyan, was installed. Mother Armenia symbolizes a 17 year old girl, named Genya Muradian, which Ara met at a store. The monument, including Mother Armenia and the original pedestal stands 51 metres (167 feet) tall.

After enjoying a nice walk through Haghtanak Park I exited on the North end, where I saw a huge obelisk. I walked over to it and realized I hadn’t done any research about this obelisk at all. Standing at 65 metres tall, it commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Soviet rule in Armenia. At the top of the monolith is a crown from the Urartian period, which dates back to about 850 BC. The obelisk was designed by architects Jim Torosyan and Sarvis Gurzadyan, and was completed in 1967.

I ended up walking down the huge Cascade Complex to get to my next stop, which was the National Centre of Chamber Music. The National Centre of Chamber Music is a concert hall in the Kentron district of Yerevan. The music hall is constructed in Armenian architecture style, and was opened in 1977. The hall has a capacity for 300 people, and was designed by Stepan Kyurkchyan, and constructed by Eduard Khzmalyan. The organ located inside the music hall is a unique pipe organ that was used in a few areas in the former USSR. It was designed in the Netherlands on a 17th century design that was used mainly for Baroque music, and features 4000 pipes. It was installed in 1979, and renovated in 2007. I also spotted an old soviet era playground while I was here.

A block away is the site of an abandoned cable car station. The abandoned lower station, located at 1,3 Charents Street was built in 1962 and served 600 people a day until a tragic accident occurred in 2004. One of the cable cars derailed and fell 15 metres into the steep hillside. The car was carry eleven people; five of the people died and the other six were seriously injured. The main cable was replaced a year earlier, and it was suspected that improper maintenance occurred. The owner / operator of the cable car ended up being accused of criminal negligence and was sentenced to up to ten years in prison.

My next stop was a fair distance away, about a 25 minute walk. The Tigran Petrosian Chess House is the chess center complex of Yerevan. It was opened in 1970, and is now recognized globally as being one of the best chess center in the world. The complex was named after the former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian in 1984. Tigran even laid the first stone of the building. The triangular shaped building was designed by Zhanna Meshcheryakova.

Another ten minute walk away was the Rossia Mall. The unique building is a well-preserved example of soviet brutalism, and somewhat resembles that of a saddle. Across the street was quite the monstrosity of a brutalism (modernism) apartment complex.

It was starting to get dark at this point, so it was time to wrap up my day. I didn’t need to take the metro, but I wanted to ride atleast one stop to get a feel for what it was like. The stations were essentially all original, as was the rolling stock. I took the metro one stop and then walked back to Lavash Restaurant, and had another local dish called Kinjura, which was basically a huge lamb wellington in the shape of those Georgian dumplings called Khinkali. It was delicious!

Yerevan, Armenia – Day 1 of 3

Today I woke up at around 5:00am to catch a 8:00am flight to Yerevan, Armenia. I decided to take a cab since it was only a $10 ride to the airport. My flight was out of Terminal 2 at Dubai, which is the low cost carrier terminal. It reminds me a lot of London Stansted airport, or Terminal 2 at Lisbon. Very basic, and extremely busy. I had my travel fork taken away from me at security, despite it completing dozens of previous trips with me without issue in the past.

After clearing security, I had a delicious three cheese toasted sandwich, and a coffee while waiting for my flight. My flight was on a Fly Dubai Boeing 737 MAX-8. On the flight there was this obnoxious Armenian who started vaping before we even took off. After reaching cruising altitude I went back to tell the flight attendants, who went and asked him to stop, and then he got confrontational with them. Eventually he drank enough and fell asleep. What a great start to my trip to Armenia…

On the descent into Yerevan there were breathtaking views of Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano, which stands at 5137 metres (16854 feet) tall. Fun fact; Mount Ararat actually resides in Turkey.

When I landed at Yerevan I was heavily scrutinized for having gone to Azerbaijan, despite reading online that it wouldn’t be an issue if I did Azerbaijan first, then Armenia. Apparently if it was the other way round I would have been turned away immediately. After being scrutinized for about twenty minutes the customs officer stamped my passport and let me go on my way.

I had downloaded a taxi hailing app called GG prior to entering the country, so that I could grab a taxi and go. While I was waiting for my taxi I was harassed by quite a few Armenians at the airport. This wasn’t giving me good vibes about the country, and I hadn’t even left the airport.

I ended up leaving the airport and walking to the very end of the terminal to get away from people. I noticed a very old brutalism (modernism) airport terminal. It was first opened in 1961 and is a well preserved example of Soviet Brutalism style architecture. The original soviet style terminal was designed by M. Khachikyan, A. Tarkhanyan, S. Qalashyan, L. Cherkezyan, and M. Baghdasaryan. It is a circular building, with the parking located underneath the bridge serving the departures. Alongside the original terminal stands a huge monolithic spaceship-like control tower, which had a luxury restaurant at the top. In the 1980’s a new terminal was built alongside the original terminal to increase with the increased domestic air travel. Cargo traffic increased significantly after Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and a new cargo terminal was opened in 1998. In 2006 a new gate area and arrival hall were opened. The airport consists of only one 3850 metre (11630 foot) long runway. While you can’t currently enter the original terminal or control tower, they’re both currently protected from being knocked down. Perhaps one day they can be restored to their former glory?

My taxi driver showed up and drove me to my hotel; Elysium Gallery Hotel, about 15 minutes away, right in the city center.

After checking into my hotel, which was a small simple room, I started exploring Yerevan. Before I dive into Yerevan lets explore a bit of the history of Armenia and the capital city of Yerevan.

Armenia History

Armenia, originally called Hayk, is located in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat. Human occupation of the area dates back to about 4000 BC. There’s too much history that has occurred in the area for me to go over in detail, however Modern Armenia is comprised of only a small portion of what ancient Armenia, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, once was. During its peak, Armenia extended from the south-central Black Sea coast to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia, which is located in present-day Iran. Historic Armenia was constantly invaded over the years and eventually lost its autonomy in the 14th Century. The Ottoman Empire and the Persians ruled the area for hundreds of years, until Russia annexed Eastern Armenia during the 19th Century. Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule, and in 1894-1896 and 1915-1922 the Ottoman government committed awful acts of genocide by killing millions of Armenians. Eastern Armenia declared independence on May 28th 1918, however was quickly invaded by the Turks and Soviet Russia in 1920. The Soviet Republic of Armenia was established on November 29th 1920, and in 1922 Armenia became part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which was dissolved in 1936 to become part of the Soviet Union, where it remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. It declared independence on September 23rd 1991.

Yerevan History

Yerevan is the largest city in Armenia, and is also the Capital city. The history of Yerevan dates back to 8th Century BC with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by King Argishti I of Urartu. Erebuni was designed as an administrative and religious center. Over the later years of the ancient Armenian Kingdom, new capital cities were establish, and Yerevan declined in importance. Under Iranian and Russian ruling it was the center of the Erivan Khanate from 1736 to 1828, and the Erivan Governorate from 1850 to 1917. After World War 1, Yerevan became the capital city of the First Republic of Armenia, and the city rapidly grew when it was under Soviet ruling, and further more in the 1990’s after Armenia declared its independence. Today Yerevan has 1.4 million people and is a popular tourist destination, and is an important industrial sector. Over 40% of Yerevans industrial products are produced in Yerevan, including chemicals, metals, machinery, rubber products, plastics, textiles, clothing, and jewelry. Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO.

Exploring Yerevan

My first spot to visit was supposed to be Freedom Square, but guess what? There was a massive protest there, so I quickly turned around and walked the other way. There was probably about 100 police officers there from my estimate. I presume they were protesting about the Azerbaijan conflict that’s ongoing, and got significantly worse within the last few days. Apparently they also annoyed Russia the morning I arrived by notifying them that they’re not allowed to practice military drills at their military base, which is located just outside Yerevan, this year, because its not tasteful with the current issues ongoing in the Ukraine.

Skipping to the next place to visit was the The Aram Khachatryan Concert Hall, also known as Yerevan Opera Theatre, was built in 1939. It was designed by Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian in 1933, and was designed to have over 3000 seats between two concert halls; an Opera Hall, and a Ballet Theatre. Construction had begun, and Alexander even had designed a miniature model to be presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937, however he died in 1936 before he could present his plan. The main theatre was finished in 1939 under the supervision of his son, however overall construction lasted until 1953! The final capacity of the the Opera Hall was 1400 seats, and the Ballet Theatre had 1200 seats.

Nearby was Komitas Statue. Komitas Statue is dedicated to Soghomon Soghomonian, also known as Komitas. He was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, and is considered the founding father of the Armenian National School of Music.

Also nearby is the Alexander Tamanyan Statue, which is dedicated to the Russian-born Armenian neoclassical architect, who is well known for his work in Yerevan. The statue was built in 1974.

Immediately behind is the enormous Cascade Complex. The Yerevan Cascade Complex is a giant staircase made of limestone. It links the downtown Kentron area with the Monument neighbourhoods of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun. It was designed by architects Jim Torosyan, Aslan Mkhitaryan, and Sargis Gurzadyan. Construction started in 1971, and was only partially completed by the time construction stopped in 1980. There are several elevators underneath the steps, as well as exhibit halls connected to some of the landings. Construction of the final phase began again in 2002, and lasted until 2009. The project is still technically incomplete, as there is a large museum complex proposed, but construction has yet to begin. You really have to see this place to experience how large it is. I’ve never seen anything like this! While I was here I could see and hear fighter jets overhead, which made me feel more unsettled than I already was. I tried to use my VPN and google what was going on, but guess what? VPN was blocked. Never had that before… what’s going on here? I eventually found out later on that Russia was buzzing Yerevan because they were upset that Armenia announced earlier that day that they were no longer going to allow Russia to do wargame training because of the ongoing Ukraine war.

I continued exploring Yerevan, but felt on edge and was rushing through things. I would say that my photography wasn’t the best in this city because of that. Next stop was the Eternal Alphabet Wall, which is an art relief project showcasing the Armenian alphabet in beautifully cut out metal forms. The art project was designed by Bahan Balasanyan, and installed in 2015 in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian alphabet, which contains 38 letters (31 consonants and 7 vowels), was developed around 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian linguist. The alphabet originally had 36 letters, however three more were eventually adopted. The alphabet was also widely used in the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From here I could see two unique buildings; the Museum of Manuscripts, and the NPUA 9th Building.

The Museum of Manuscripts, also known as Matenadaran, is a repository of manuscripts and a research institute. The building was built between 1945 and 1958 out of gray basalt. The reason why it took so long to build was because there was a lack of labour between 1947 and 1953. It was designed by Mark Grigorian, and is influenced by medieval Armenian architecture.

The NPUA 9th Building is a university building that was built in the 1980’s. The building, designed by Armen Aghalyan, is an excellent example of brutalism (modernism).

A short walk away is the National Library of Armenia. The building was built in 1939 and designed by architect Alexander Tamanyan. I ended up just snapping a photo of the exterior, because I didn’t feel like going inside.

Just up the street from the library is The Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, which was founded in 1921. I couldn’t find much history on the building that it resides in, however you can see some beautiful Soviet era motifs, so I have to believe that this building was built in the 1920’s, or as late as the early 1930’s.

A short walk away is the Yeritasarddaken metro station, which is a great example of brutalism (modernism). Yerevan Metro is the eight metro system that the former Soviet Union built. Unlike most of the former soviet metro systems, its stations are not very deep. The metro stations are also fairly basic on the inside.

Just up the road is the Holy Mother of God Kathoghike Church, which is a small medieval style Armenian Apostolic Church that was constructed in 1264. The complex was larger once upon a time; a large basilica named after the Holy Mother of God was built between 1693 and 1695, however it was demolished under Soviet rule to make way for residential buildings and a linguistic institute. The only remaining building is Katoghike, which measures only 5.4 metres by 7.5 metres. Due to its small size, it only serves as a prayer house.

A few blocks away was Cinema Rossia, a former soviet cinema that was built in 1975. It was designed by Spartak Khachikyan, Hrachik Poghosyan, and Artur Tarkhanyan.

I was starting to get hungry, so I decided to eat at a restaurant called Lavash, where I had a local delicacy called Lavash. I figured the restaurant probably knew how to cook that dish properly considering its name. Lavash is a thin flatbread, however this restaurant did a bit of a twist. My meal included a delicious steak with melted cheese cooked inside lavash, cut open, and then spread over my steak. It was absolutely incredible!

After enjoying my delicious meal I walked to the Hard Rock Café, where I purchased another pin. I also found the building looked pretty neat.

I then walked to the former Ministry of Labour and Social building, which is another excellent example of soviet brutalism, and was built in 1972. It is located next to Republic Square and Republic Square metro station. The building was designed by architects T. Gevorkyan and V. Gusyan.

Speaking of Republic Square, check out the neat look of Republic Square Metro station.

Turning around 180 degrees you’re presented with the jaw dropping Republic Square. Republic Square, formerly known as Lenin Square, is the central town square in Yerevan. It consists of two sections; an oval roundabout, and a trapezoidal shaped section, which contains a pool with musical fountains. The square is surrounded by five major buildings (Government House, History Museum, National Gallery, Armenia Marriott Hotel, and two other government buildings, which were all built in pink and yellow volcanic rock in neoclassical style. The square was renamed to Republic Square when Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

It was starting to get dark, but there were a few more places I wanted to visit before calling it a day. A 15 minute walk away was the Yerevan History Museum. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, however I did snap a photo from the outside. The Yerevan History Museum was founded in 1931 as the Communal Museum. The museum is located in a building designed by Jim Torosyan, and is attached to the Yerevan City Hall. The museum as originally located on the second floor of the Yerevan Fire Department building until 1936, then was moved to the Blue Mosque until 1994. From 1994 to 1997 the museum was located in a former gymnasium, until it moved to its current location in 2005. The main façade of the museum showcases what the original city core looked like.

Across the street is the Noy Brandy Company. There’s a bit of history with how Noy came to be. Original Noy started life as the Yerevan Brandy Company, also known as ArArAt, which was established in 1887 within the territories of the Erivan Fortess. It was started by a wealthy guild merchant named Nerses Tairyan, with the help of his cousin Vasily Tairov. In 1899 it was leased to Russian businessman Nikolay Shustov, who was well-known for his vodka and liqueur production. In 1900, Shustov fully acquired the factory and renamed it to Shustov and Sons. The company ended up becoming the main supplier of the Imperial Majesty’s court of Russia. Here’s a fun fact; In 1900, Shustov’s Armenian brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called “cognac”, which is usually only reserved for Brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. In 1948, the factory was separated into 2 entities; the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory, and the Yerevan Brandy Factory. In 1953 the Yerevan Brandy Factory was transferred to a new building, designed by architect Hovhannes Margaryan, in 1953. The new building stands on a high plateau at the western end of the Victory Bridge, opposite the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory. It has a long flight of steps leading up to nine austere arches. Between 1953 and 1991, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was granted the rights to produce Armenian cognac within the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was sold by the Government of Armenia to French distiller Pernod Ricard for $30 million in June 1998, after a competitive bidding process. The other building entered a period of abandonment until 2002, when it was privatized and sold to Multi Group Holding led by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan. The building was completely restored and rebranded as “NOY”, after Noah’s Ark, because apparently it rested on the Mountains of Ararat according to biblical scriptures. Anyways so I ended up doing a tour here alongside a young Russian couple who were celebrating their 11th year anniversary together. They were absolutely wonderful and we had some great conversations. During the tour we got to taste delicious port from 1913 and 1924, and some 10 and 20 year brandy’s. The bottle from 1913 goes for a few thousand dollars!

After the tour I was decided to take some night photos, and get some dinner on my way back to the hotel. I stopped at the Dargett Craft Beer brewery for a delicious pizza. This is apparently one of the top destinations in all of Yerevan for food and beverages. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

One I finished dinner, I walked back to my hotel and did some blog writing for the remainder of the evening.

Dubai, UAE – Day 3 of 3

Today was my final day in Dubai, and again I had to wake up fairly early to ensure I was able to see everything that I wanted to see. I woke up at 7:30am, got ready, and took the metro to the Mall of the Emirates to have Tim Hortons for breakfast, since it was on the way to my first stop at Legoland. They have more unique breakfast options than we do at home. I had a chicken and cheese English muffin, alongside a large coffee. The coffee here tastes way better than the Tim Hortons coffee back home.

I hopped back on the metro until the end of the line, where I transferred to an express bus to take me to Legoland. All in all, the trip from my hotel to Legoland took nearly 2.25 hours, including my 25 minute stop at the mall for breakfast. While this took a while, it sure did beat a $100 cab ride each way.

Legoland Dubai opened in October 2016, and is the eighth in the world. I have been to the one in California, and I believe the one in Florida as well, and those ones were substantially better than this one. The park features a few rollercoasters, 40 attractions, and utilizes over 20 million lego bricks to create 15000 miniature models of different landmarks and structures from around the world. I was mainly interested in the Miniatureland section, more so than the rides.

After exploring Legoland I took the bus and metro to the Al Fahidi Historical District, almost back where my hotel was. Al Fahidi is a historical neighbourhood that is well preserved so you can experience what Dubai would have been like in the late 1800’s. Construction of the neighbourhood was started in the 1890’s, and features about 60 housing units. It was built primarily for Persian Merchants who were drawn to Dubai by trade opportunities and the incentives offered by the Emerati government. In the 1980’s about half of the historic neighbourhood was knocked down to make way for the development of a new office complex. The rest of the area was slated for demolition by the city in 1989, however British architect Rayner Otter worked with the city to stop the planned demolition. In 2005 a project was initiated by the city to restore the old neighbourhood. Located within the neighbourhood is Al Fahidi Fort, which was built in the late 18th Century as a defensive structure along the city boundary. The fort was expanded between the 1830’s and 1850’s.

From the Al Fahidi district I could see my next stop across the water; the Dubai Spice Souk. Dubai’s Spice Souk, also known as the Old Souk, is a traditional spice market located in Deira (East Dubai). The souk is comprised of very narrow lanes which are lined with tiny stores that sell spices. It’s a colourful and aromatic sensory overload. It’s also a bit overwhelming being harassed by dozens of vendors to buy their stuff. I had my headphones on for this part, because I knew it would get annoying. Too busy for my liking, but a must see.

The final stop for my day was the Burj Kalifa and Dubai Fountain. The Burj Khalifa is a neo-futuristic skyscraper that was built between 2004 and 2009. It holds the record for being the tallest skyscraper in the world since it was finished in 2009, standing at 830 metres (2722 feet) tall. The building, named after the former president of the United Arab Emirates, was designed by architect Adrian Smith who works for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the same firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago. The building has a staggering 57 elevators and 8 escalators! Each elevator (some are double decker cabins) has a capacity of 14 people per cabin and can ascent at 10 metres per second! Some additional fun facts about the building are that the building uses nearly 1 million litres (250000 gallons) of water per day, the building has 347 km (215 miles) of pipes, and the cooling system that uses 46 MW of power!

After visiting the Burj Khalifa I had some ramen for dinner, while waiting for the 6:00pm show at the Dubai Fountain. The Dubai Fountain is a choreographed fountain system located in the artificial Burj Khalifa lake below the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. It was designed by WET Design, which has created some of the world’s most famous fountains including the waterfall I saw yesterday at Expo 2020, The Rain Vortex in Singapore, Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, 1988 Lisbon Expo Fountains, Fountain of Nations at EPCOT in Florida, etc. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) was founded by Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson in 1983. All three worked as Imagineers at Disney. Their original creation was the Leapfrog foundation at EPCOT. The Dubai Fountain features 6600 lights, 50 coloured projectors, and many jets that arranged into five circles, and two long arcs. The fountain can spray 83000 litres (22000 gallons) of water into the air at any moment, and the tallest jet can reach 152 metres (500 feet) in the air! You can watch the show on my YouTube page here.

After watching the three minute show at the fountain I took the metro back to my hotel, to blog for the remainder of the evening, before going to bed early, as I had an early morning flight to Yerevan, Armenia the next day.

Dubai, UAE – Day 2 of 3

Today I woke up at 7:30am because I knew I would have a lot of ground to cover. Dubai is a very spread out city, and it takes quite a while to get places. I got ready for my day and hailed a cab to take me to my first spot, Al Mahatta Museum. On the ride over the cab driver warned me that it would take 1-1.5 hours to return, despite the drive there only taking 15 minutes. The Al Mahatta Museum is an aviation museum located at the first airport in the United Arab Emirates. The airport was built in 1932 as a staging post for commercial flight routes from Britain to India. It features rare planes such as the de Havilland Comet and Vickers VC-10. Sadly, I couldn’t enter the museum due to flooding that occurred two days before, when they had a fairly significant rainstorm. I snapped a photo of the exterior.

Well… the cab driver wasn’t kidding about the return time taking a while. It took me over an hour to get a ride to the nearest metro station, just 6 kilometres away! I took the metro to the Museum of the Future, which was my next stop. The museum wasn’t open by the time I arrived, and I had yet to have dinner, so I sourced out a nice place to have breakfast called Flow. There I had a truffled steak sandwich, and a fancy Chemex coffee. I miss my Chemex maker, which I unfortunately broke a few months ago. I had a smaller one that I had I gave to my friend Arthur a couple years back.

The Museum of the Future is an exhibition space for innovative and futuristic ideologies, services and products. It is located in the Financial District, which isn’t too far from the Burj Khalifa. It was founded by the Dubai Future Foundation, and opened recently in February 2022. It was one of the more unique museums that I’ve visited, and I overall enjoyed my experience there. Plenty of special effects were used. I can buy into some of the futuristic ideologies, however most of them seem to be a far reach for the general status quo. I didn’t take too many photos inside, however I did take plenty of video. I’ll post something about that later, when I’ve compiled them together.

I was starting to get hungry so I purchased a donair for lunch from a mall located on Palm Jumeriah. The Palm Jumeriah is an artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree, and was created between 2001 and 2006. The luxury hotel was opened in September 2008. After lunch I went to the top of a tower to take pictures of the Palm from up top. What a unique creation! From the top you can also see Atlantis The Palm, Atlantis The Royal Dubai, and Cayan Tower.

Cayan Tower, also known as the Infinity Tower, is a 306 metre (1004 foot) tall skyscraper owned by Cayan Real Estate Investment and Development. It was built between August 2006 and June 2013. The building features a unique twisting design around a cylindrical elevator core, which features 7 elevators. Each of the 75 floors rotates 1.2 degrees between floors. The building, one of the tallest in the world, was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

Atlantis The Royal Dubai isn’t quite open yet, but will be in a few months. It will feature 795 luxirous rooms, 17 restaurants, and the worlds largest jellyfish aquarium. The hotel is comprised of six seperate buildings that give the appearance of being stacked like legoblocks due to the use of multiple skybridges. The building is a modern twist on the The Bank of Georgia Headquarters Building that I saw in Tbilisi, Georgia. You can check that out on my blog post here.

Atlantis The Palm is a luxury hotel featuring 1500+ rooms on the apex of the Palm Jumeriah. After soaking in the views up top I took the monorail to see the hotel up close.

My feet were starting to hurt at this point in time, since I had already clocked in 25000 steps already. I took the monorail back to the metro, and then took the metro to the beach located near the Dubai Eye to relax for a few hours soaking in the sun.

Ain Dubai, previously known as Dubai Eye, is the world’s tallest and largest Ferris Wheel. It stands 250 metres (820 feet) tall and was constructed between 2015 and 2021. The wheel can carry 1750 passengers in 48 cabins and provides breathtaking views of the Dubai Marina and various Dubai landmarks. It’s not currently operational, but is set to open soon, although it looks fairly rusty and weathered already.

After relaxing at the beach I took the metro, and a bus to a restaurant called Asia Asia, where I met my friend Karen, who I met through my friend Krystylyn in 2016. Karen was running a bit late from work, so I snapped a few photos of the Burj Kalifa while I waited. Karen is a nurse living in Dubai, and has spent most of her career in Saudi Arabi and Dubai. It was nice catching up with her.

After dinner I took the metro and a bus to get a pin from the Hardrock Café, before heading back to my hotel. I had to take a cab back to my hotel because the bus was packed, and another one wasn’t coming for 55 minutes, and I was exhausted and ready for bed.